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Halkawt Mustafa • Director

"I hope I’ve made a feelgood movie that makes people happy"


- Cineuropa caught up with Norwegian director Halkawt Mustafa to talk about his second feature film, El Clásico, currently showing in Norway

Halkawt Mustafa • Director

At a time when Scandinavian screens are hosting films dedicated to famous historical figures, to major wars, comes El Clásico [+see also:
interview: Halkawt Mustafa
film profile
, a film that centres around the characters of Alan and Shirwan, two young brothers on an adventure that seems rather ordinary to all appearances, being about football and love, but which turns out to be rather extraordinary. The film is about to have its premiere in the United States at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival, which will be held almost at the same time as the Oslo Film Festival. The film is directed by Halkawt Mustafa, who is originally from the province of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, and it’s in the cafe of The Film House in Oslo, a meeting place for film-lovers in the Norwegian capital, that he talked to Cineuropa about the second feature film he has produced with Anders Graham.

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Cineuropa: El Clásico... the title makes you think of football matches between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
Halkawt Mustafa: Yes. A few years ago, while I was working on a documentary in northern Iraq, loud demonstrations nearly scared me off: it actually only turned out to be an enthusiastic crowd celebrating the victory of Real over its favourite rival. That gave me an idea for a film, and I got two Kurdish brothers on board, who I already knew, with an epic quad bike ride. Wrya Ahmed and Dana Ahmed knew nothing about film. I lived with them for a year, first to better understand their problems, to get a taste of their daily lives, then to show them films, to clearly explain what I expected of them. We forged a real bond, a true friendship that still exists to this day. During that year, the screenplay, which I had developed with Anders Fagerholt, was modified slightly as a result of spending time with them.

To make it more authentic?
Exactly. We borrowed elements from their lives, their daily reality: for example their lively debates on the respective merits of the two Spanish teams is not made up. Even so, we emphasised their dreams, their aspirations, their energy, rather than the prejudice and discrimination their fellow men fall victim to.

Are the actors amateurs?
Not all of them. Two of them are very well-known in Iraq: Kamaran Raof, who plays Jalal, the uncompromising father of Gona, Alan’s sweetheart, is also a director, and Rohzin Sharifi, who plays Gona, owes her fame to TV series. She spent two weeks with Wrya and myself before filming to make sure that her performance would be simple and natural in the soft and tender scenes. For everything to go well, it’s extremely important that everyone gets on well with one another when you’re working on a big production involving over 80 people of different nationalities. The languages spoken in El Clásico are Kurdish, Arabic and Spanish. I was lucky to have four assistants, and we were supported by a solid security service. It took approximately four years to make El Clásico, of which two years were spent writing and 60 days were spent filming with director of photography Kjell Vassdal, with six journeys to Spain, without forgetting the complex editing work carried out by Inge-Lise Langfeldt. All that on a budget of 16 million krone, almost €2 million.

Why did you film in Iraq?
Most filmmakers choose Morocco or Jordan to make their films, for safety reasons. We took the risk of shooting in Iraq, including two weeks in Baghdad, despite the dangers, for the atmosphere, to better anchor the story in reality. We had to work with a number of barriers, incessant checks, and had to ask for multiple authorisations… On the very first day an attack close to where we were filming left behind twenty or so victims. And yet, in spite of everything, life goes on, people laugh and take the time to get excited about football. As incredible as it may seem, you get used to the bombs. As almost everything in the area has been destroyed by air strikes, particularly those of 1988, we had to build the sets, the bazar, the café and shops among others. There are serious moments in the film with sadness and frustration, but so many sad films about Iraq have been made, that I hope I’ve managed to do something different and make a feelgood movie, a film that makes people feel happy.

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(Translated from French)

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